On the face of it, the answer to this question seems obvious: guitar practise is simply playing and learning.
The trouble is, there can be a big difference between playing and learning. For instance, if you're playing something you already know well, are you learning anything? probably not.
Ok, you might say, in that case, practise is learning something new!
This is a better answer, but whether it's the whole answer will depend on why you're learning to play in the first place. If you want to learn a few songs to sing along to with your friends or just for your own amusement at home, then great, once you've mastered the basics then all you need to do is learn a new song and you're happy.
But what if you want to learn to play like your favourite guitarist, or even learn to be the best guitarist you can be?
In that case, just learning something new may not be enough.You have to ask yourself if what you're learning is actually going to get you closer to where you want to be. Is learning that new song progressing you, or is it just a variation on what you already know? If it's the latter, then it's not a useful element of your practise. Don't get me wrong, learning new songs of any kind is great, especially if you enjoy them: it broadens versatility and makes playing fun. All I'm saying is (if you really want to progress) it should be in addition to your practise routine, not part of it, or instead of it.
So what should Ilearn?
The quick answer is, 'anything you can't do'!
As I've hinted above, playing things which you already know how to play well may be reassuring, confidence boosting and more fun, but it won't make you any better!
This may seem blindingly obvious, but I think we've all had times when we begin practising something difficult, but get bored or disillusioned with the effort required and soon resort to playing something 'fun' instead. Then the important stuff never gets done! Often students tell me that they've practised for half an hour or an hour every day, but when we look at what they've actually practised, we might find that a lot of that time was spent simply playing other things they like.
Remember that's not practise, that's just playing!
Practising what we need to practise can be tedious and challenging, but remember why you're doing it and imagine how good you'll be if you keep on trying!
So, learn something that you find technically demanding and (more importantly) that will take you in the direction that you want to go.Don't waste a lot of time learning lots of styles which you aren't aiming to use. For instance, if you want to play death metal, don't spend a lot of time playing classical guitar; or if you want to be a folk guitarist, don't spend time learning to play fusion scales. The idea of being well rounded is good when you're learning the basics, but once you get to a certain level, learning too many unnecessary things only slows down your progress.
Focus on your Goals!
What if I don't have enough time to practise?
Finding enough time is a problem for most people. School, work, social life, family all takes priority, but again, remember why you want to play. Even if you only have five minutes it is better to use that for concentrated practise than to stare at the clock for five minutes thinking 'it's not long enough, so I won't bother'.
Obviously 5 minutes isn't long and more would be better, but if you use those five minutes every day you'll most likely progress further and faster than someone who practised for 1 hour on Sunday because 'there wasn't time the rest of the week'. Regular practise makes playing a habit and hones your skills; playing once or twice a week means you forget what you practised and have to start again every time!
Remember, a teacher can show you what to do, they can show you how to do it, but they can't do it for you!
Self motivation isthe key!